The high-level political forum today examined the findings and recommendations from the Regional Forums on Sustainable Development, highlighting ways in which these organs are mobilizing regional action and leveraging regional frameworks on the road to 2030 and beyond.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders in 2015, stresses the importance of the regional and subregional dimensions in the follow-up and review of the Agenda. Since the creation of the high-level political forum, Regional Forums have been organized by the United Nations Regional Commissions to contribute to the political forum’s preparations. Their importance was recognized in the Political Declaration of the Sustainable Development Summit in September 2019.
The session today discussed where the five regions stand in advancing implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and what the priorities for action are in each region.
The political forum will reconvene on Thursday, 15 July, to conclude its work by adopting the Ministerial Declaration.
Arlette Soudan-Nonault, Minister for Environment, Sustainable Development and the Congo Basin of Congo, spoke in her capacity as Chair of the seventh Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, held from 1 to 4 March. She said Africa's moderate progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has eroded some gains made. At the current rate of implementation, the continent is not on track to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. In Africa, poverty and debt pressure are both increasing. The devastating effects of climate change are multiplying, costing the region more than 5 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to respond to climate emergencies.
Faced with these challenges, the Forum urged African countries to invest in research and innovation to increase local production capacities, particularly in the production of vaccines and personal protective equipment, she said. African Governments should put in place measures to stimulate domestic resource mobilization and the international community must support Africa’s response through the special drawing rights, debt for sustainable development swaps, and global carbon trading systems. On climate action and nature-based solutions, the Forum underscored the crucial role of Africa, particularly the forest of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest carbon sink, in maintaining the global climate balance. The Forum invited development partners to mobilize the necessary financing to roll out the “Congo Basin Blue Fund”. The international community should also support initiatives for conservation and preservation of peatlands in the Congo Basin, which sequesters nearly 30 billion metric tons of carbon.
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that the Forum identified key messages and the Brazzaville Declaration adopted at the session drew particular attention to the very important point that Africa is not being recognized and compensated for its crucial role in global goods, including the role of the Congo Basin forest. She stressed some key measures to advance sustainable development in Africa. First, African countries must have adequate access to financing, she said, stressing the need for more special drawing rights. Africa should also be paid for holding carbon stock as a global good — a measure that could raise a huge amount of resources for climate response and sustainable development on the continent, she said, welcoming the recognition at the Group of 20 finance leaders meeting of carbon pricing as a potential tool to address climate change and calling for support for the Congo Basin Blue Fund. Highlighting the need for transition to renewable energy, she said access to global trade markets and technology are also the way out of the crisis for Africa.
Kofi Kankam, President and Chief Executive Officer of Elizka Relief Foundation, Ghana, and Co-Chair of the Africa Regional Mechanism for Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, called for, among other measures, an inclusive process of sustainable development that impacts livelihoods, valuing and empowering local capacity, wisdom, culture and contextualizing and localizing action. He also urged action to ensure that equity, inclusion, and non-discrimination underpin all efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and regularly report on the progress made in reaching the most deprived and marginalized people through disaggregated data. Stressing the need to inspire accountability and transparency, open access to information and data, and improve communication across sectors and actors, he warned against shrinking civic space and the over-regulation of civil society organizations and trade unions. They must be recognized as “legitimate actors in sustainable development,” he said.
Benedict Okey Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Afreximbank, highlighted priority areas, including post-pandemic recovery plans. Citing several ongoing projects, he pointed to a partnership with the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) that has initiated programmes to strengthen recovery plans, including efforts to help States better manage their economies. Efforts are also focused on acquiring COVID-19 vaccine doses, and crafting initiatives to help African States build back better from the pandemic.
Mereseini Rakuita Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, spoke in her capacity as Chair of the eighth session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, held from 23 to 26 March. She said participants shared their efforts to respond to the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic and to stimulate recovery. During the interactive discussions, the Forum identified a series of policy measures including stimulus packages, programmes to improve living standards based on “people first” principles and people-centered development. Also mentioned as possible measures to face the pandemic challenge were green recovery strategies to address both Sustainable Development Goal 13 and COVID-19, as well as support for health and education sectors, social protection measures, emergency cash payments, low-interest working capital loans and household electricity subsidies.
Recognizing that the pandemic has accelerated digitalization, enabling the continuity of public services and business operations and providing opportunities to enhance the Government efficiency, the Forum reiterated that digitalization will play an important role in building resilience, she said. The Forum also recognized the role of infrastructure and connectivity in enhancing industry and innovation. Forum outcomes emphasized the resolve of member States to ensure that no one is left behind, and to build back better towards sustainability and resilience, urging solidarity and strengthened regional cooperation. It is imperative to affirm the role of international solidarity in the COVID-19 response including through regional and inter‑subregional cooperation and to anchor recovery on development justice, including social justice and environmental sustainability, she said.
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said its activities include leading the regional United Nations development system in providing capacity-building and resources for the development of solutions to recover socioeconomically from COVID-19. To this end, the Commission established robust country-level coordination and multistakeholder collaboration mechanisms and set an ambitious policy agenda for inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery. Support for States includes facilitating inclusive recovery by improving access to national social protection systems, especially for vulnerable groups.
Initiatives will focus on enabling a resilient recovery by promoting transport and transit policies, aimed at transforming landlocked countries into land-linked countries, she said. Citing other areas for action, she said support will include scaling up digital-based economies and creating fiscal space to mobilize domestics financial resources. In addition, ESCAP will continue to strengthen follow-up and review to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with such efforts as bridging and catalysing regional cooperation and forging partnerships with a focus on attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that no person nor country is left behind.
Ms. Wardarina, Asia-Pacific Regional Coordination Engagement Mechanisms, said that the role of regional forums could be better defined in the follow-up and review process. More sessions of the high-level political forum should be dedicated to systematically integrate regional forum perspectives to inform global processes. To further enhance the process, a continuous feedback loop should be created to flow back from the political forum into regional, subregional and national mechanisms to efficiently track the implementation of recommended actions.
Francisco André, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, delivered a statement with László Borbély, State Counsellor to the Prime Minister of Romania, in their capacity as Co-Chairs of the 2021 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Region, held from 17 to 18 March, which connected 1,400 key stakeholders during the virtual event.
Mr. André said discussions focused on such pressing questions as how to sustainably recover and which opportunities from the COVID-19 recovery can accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Findings included several cross-cutting issues, including that promoting a green and sustainable recovery is crucial in overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, a renewed commitment to advancing women’s empowerment and addressing gender-based violence is required, given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on females. As the pandemic triggered rapid progress in digitalization, he said Portugal had prioritized the issue during its European Union Council Presidency, as innovation and digitalization are powerful transformational forces, often driven by the business sector. Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline, he said. Lastly, the reform of the United Nations development system has strengthened its ability to support Member States under difficult circumstances, including at the regional level.
Mr. Borbély, continuing the presentation, shared key messages from the Forum’s three thematic clusters: people, prosperity and the planet. Better health and social protection coverage is needed, and food systems must deliver affordable and nutritious food to all. The pandemic response should be complemented with support to sustainable growth, involving resilient and sustainable trade and infrastructure investment. The crisis response has shown that societies can react forcefully in times of crisis, and such an approach is also needed to address climate change and environmental crises. An inclusive transition to a circular economy can be fostered through a smart mix of regulation, standards, incentives and information. The demands of the pandemic have boosted progress and innovation in data and statistics, and there is now a need to maintain cooperation among different statistical actors. Noting that nine of the regional countries presented voluntary national reviews at this high-level political forum, he said the Forum considered this to be a valuable process, especially if they use high-quality data and involve stakeholders and subnational levels of Government.
Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of ECE, cited elements of its progress report, which reflects falling growth rates and derailed achievements towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. Progress on 57 targets would need to accelerate, and trends for 9 targets must be reversed. There is no sufficient data for more than half of the 169 targets, so much progress is needed to improve data availability alongside action in such critical areas as climate change and the environment. As a result, ECE has scaled up its support to the immediate COVID-19 response and to a longer-term recovery, with efforts focusing on three main pillars: enhancing connectivity, for example by facilitating border crossings and the use of digital tools in trade and transport; addressing transboundary and other risks, through the use of ECE multilateral agreements, standards and statistical frameworks; and supporting a green and resilient recovery, including by improved resource use and the promotion of a circular economy.
Sergey Glazyev, Member of the Board, Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics of the Eurasian Economic Commission, said that this Commission first submitted its review in 2017, stressing the importance of actively developing cooperation among the bloc’s member States to enable better implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. This Commission is currently working on improving the approach to assess progress through measures, such as developing new indicators. It is also working to identify strategic areas of regional integration towards 2025. The Commission also organized round‑table discussions on regional integration to exchange views.
Christoph Steck, Director of Public Policy and the Internet at Telefonica S.A. in Spain, said the pandemic has slowed down and even halted social and economic activity worldwide. For the business community, digitalization is among the most direct route to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, fostering economic development and ending inequalities and divides through digital inclusion. From a business perspective, there are three relevant levers for digital inclusion: broadening connectivity, which should be a priority for Governments as it has been a lifeline during the pandemic; improving digital skills; and promoting the responsible use of technologies. “We can no longer wait to close the digital divides,” he said, adding that a strong collaboration between public and private initiatives is the way forward to assure the timely achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Telefonica is leading by example, as the leading European company on digital inclusion, he said. The company ranks second worldwide in the Digital Inclusion Benchmark established by the World Benchmark Alliance, which analyses how businesses are promoting a more inclusive digital economy and society. Telefonica has presented “A Digital Deal” plan to build back better societies and economies and to manage the digital transition by putting people at the centre. “We need to define new rules, based on values for the crucial role digitalization has to play in economic recovery and in achieving a more inclusive and sustainable society,” he said, highlighting Telefonica’s vision that technology should be available to everyone, so the global population can do more and live better.
Rodolfo Solano Quirós, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Costa Rica, and Chair of the fourth session of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, held from 16 to 18 March, said the guiding message resulting from the Forum was to reduce technology gaps, build sustainable infrastructure and improve financing for green growth, in line with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. To achieve these goals in the region, there must be a focus on strategic sectors and on the importance of international financing based on the 2030 Agenda.
The Forum report also emphasized the need for a new development plan to achieve these goals, with special attention for middle-income countries, he said. A roster and flexible rules must encompass critical environmental issues, with actors working together to improve market efficiency and strengthen State capacities. The regional consensus includes a commitment to the 2030 Agenda and multilateralism and calls for increased international cooperation to recover from the pandemic, including equal access to the tools and vaccines to do so. Pledging Costa Rica’s continued efforts, he urged States and financial institutions to provide more access to financing and to work to find creative and innovative solutions for developing countries.
Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said the Forum was a valuable platform, bringing together more than 3,400 participants in the virtual forum, including stakeholders from civil society and the private sector. Highlighting several key areas identified for action, she underlined the importance of addressing access to vaccines, liquidity plans and favourable financing conditions. There should also be a road map to ensure that no country is left behind. A unanimously adopted Political Declaration called for, among other things, effective development strategies that would go beyond per capita income. Working together is essential, she said. Noting that national reviews were presented at the Forum, she said States embraced the challenge to adopt fiscal policies that aimed at, among other things, achieving equality.
Faisal al Ibrahim, Minister for Economy and Planning of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, speaking in his capacity as Chair of the 2021 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, held from 29 to 31 March, reported that the three-day session evaluated the reality of sustainable development in the region. Countries in the region are have different levels of capacity to respond to crises. Stressing the need to formulate strategies to meet the different needs of regional countries, he said the Forum underscored the need to introduce structural reform to social protection systems and fight social inequality by protecting employment, enhancing education, including digital learning, and increasing investment in science, technology and innovation. Political leaders must also commit to putting in place universal health care, providing primary care and mental health services.
The Forum discussed governance of migration and the need to ease challenges facing migrant workers, while also highlighting the need for gender quality and new legislation to end discrimination, he said. In addition, it stressed the need to increase the size of civic space and the central role of the private sector, and to focus on strengthened regional cooperation and joint investment in agriculture and food security. Calling for the fulfilment of commitments to the regional road map for financing for development, he underpinned the need to reorient expenditures to sustainable recovery. In closing, he urged solidarity, stressing the importance of leveraging partnership.
Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said that ESCWA, in cooperation with ECA, has developed the COVID-19 Stimulus Tracker, a state-of-the-art global observatory of social protection and economic policy measures adopted by 194 countries in response to the pandemic. Launched on 13 July, the Tracker offers a wealth of harmonized information to strengthen policymaking capacity and improve government readiness to formulate effective responses to future shocks. ESCWA has recently launched the Debt Swap/Donor Nexus Initiative, an innovative financing mechanism that offers win-win results for debtor and creditor countries to deliver on the global Goals and the Paris Agreement commitments, and to advance North-South and triangular cooperation. This initiative makes debt holders and donors partners in realizing the aspirations of Arab countries to meet national development goals.
ESCWA has also developed a Social Justice Policy Gap Assessment Tool to enable Governments to self-assess their social policies and identify deficits. This gives clear directions on how to further mainstream social justice in policymaking processes. To build forward together, ESCWA has developed a common vision between least developed Arab countries and donors. The vision provides the foundations for an ambitious agenda for the next decade to address the crippling challenges these countries face. Arab societies are ageing fast, with serious economic and social implications, she warned, stressing the need to prepare to tackle this looming risk. To this end, ESCWA is bridging the knowledge gap, building capacities, and advocating integrated policies and ageing strategies.
Nadia al Saeed, General Manager of Al Etihad Bank, Jordan, reported on the bank’s internal efforts to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. As an employer, it allowed employees to attend to children and elderly family members, giving them access to resources such as laptops and Internet connection. No employees were let go. About 90 per cent of employees were vaccinated, with its headquarters serving as a vaccination centre. The bank took advantage of lockdown measures to improve employees’ skills through online trainings and capacity‑building. Externally, the bank supported women, entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses and organized 55 virtual capacity-building events, reaching over 45,000 entrepreneurs and professionals covering topics such as e‑commerce, business resilience, marketing, human resource, legal advice and access to finance.
Salaheddine Jourchi, President of the Forum group Al-Jahez of Tunisia, emphasized the importance of civil society involvement.
When the floor opened to delegates and other stakeholders, the representative of Lebanon said that, as host country of ECSWA, her country values the role of the commission as a regional convener on the 2030 Agenda, especially through the organization of the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, a solid platform for technical peer learning on the implementation of the global Goals. She also commended ESCWA’s emphasis and initiatives on supporting the engagement of women and youth in national efforts to implement those Goals.
A representative of the major group of workers said Goal 8 on decent work has a strong impact on all objectives. Social protection plans, establishing minimum wages and introducing progressive taxation are among the actions needed.
A representative of the Stakeholder Group on Ageing said the pandemic’s devasting impact is clear: 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths are among older people. There is a dearth in disaggregated data to sharpen the focus on the complete picture. Among concerns are that widows are left landless. Ageist employment practices and neglect of the elderly must be addressed. Across the regions, challenges face older persons, and while initiatives to address this exist on paper, more action is needed on the ground.
Also speaking were delegates of Iraq and Morocco.